The legend of King Arthur has been told in countless books and films throughout history. The upcoming movie, The Kid Who Would Be King, opening in theaters on Jan 25, tells the story of Alex (Louis Ashbourne Serkis), a young boy who discovers he can wield the magical sword Excalibur. He is visited by Merlin, played by a combination of Patrick Stewart as the ancient wizard, and Angus Imrie, a younger form he takes to pass in the modern world. Alex learns that he is destined to form a new roundtable of knights and fight the evil witch Morganna. If The Kid Who Would Be King sounds like something you'd definitely want to see, or if adaptations of the King Arthur legend appeal to you, I have the perfect underrated movie for you that you might have missed: 1998's The Mighty.
Directed by Peter Chesolm, The Mighty isn't necessarily a King Arthur story, but it does use the legendary tales of the medieval king as the backbone of its main story. The movie stars Keiran Culkin as a 13-year-old boy named Kevin who is suffering from Morquio syndrome, a rare metabolic disorder that leaves him unable to walk without canes and makes him vulnerable to a number of other illnesses. Kevin lives with his mom Gwen (Sharon Stone) and befriends the big kid next door, Max (Elden Henson), whose size and quiet nature make him a perfect target for bullies. Kevin and Max's touchy tutor-student relationship buds into a friendship based on their mutual outcast status.
Now you might be thinking, what the heck does all of that have to do with King Aurthur? Well, Kevin may be frail in body but he's super smart, and reads way beyond his middle school grade level. He introduces Max to The Once and Future King by T.H. White, and by tutoring Max in reading, Kevin also teaches him the lessons of the legend. Kevin and Max eventually form a friendship so intense that they physically join their bodies, with Max hoisting Kevin's small frame up onto his shoulders, like a knight mounting a horse. They dub themselves "Freak the Mighty," and apply the noble intentions of good knights to their everyday deeds, from helping the elderly, to battling the neighborhood bad guys, a gang of lowlifes called the Doghouse Boys, all while King Arthur imagery magically imbues their actions with more meaning.
The Mighty features a whole handful of wonderful actors. In addition to Stone, Gena Rowlands and Harry Dean Stanton plays Max's grandparents, lovingly nicknamed Gram and Grim. One of the pair's good deeds leads them to a character named Loretta Lee, played by Gillian Anderson. Meatloaf, yes the musician Meatloaf, has a supporting role alongside Anderson, and James Gandolfini plays Max's dad. But it's Anderson who seems like she's having the most fun. Loretta is an out-there, big haired character who speaks her mind and sounds like Dolly Parton in her twang. She offers up probably the best lesson of the film, too. After a tragic climax, Loretta asks Max what he's been up to, to which he responds, "Nothing." But Loretta doesn't let his sadness slide. "Nothing's a drag, kid. Think about it," she says. The part Anderson plays may be small, but it's definitely one of her best.
Like many Arthur legend adaptations, The Mighty taps into its elements of human dignity, generosity, and great integrity. It's about nobility, not in the birth-right sense, but in that everyone, no matter their class status, intelligence, or physical capabilities can be brave and perform good deeds for the world. It's exactly the kind of motivation needed when you're feeling helpless, or beaten down by those who would take advantage of others. The legend of King Arthur is about believing in yourself, and expecting the best from your round table.
So if you're in the need of a noble boost, check it out, and dub yourself with a cool knight name the next time you head out on an honorable quest.
The Mighty is streaming on Hulu, Amazon, iTunes, and Vudu.